He gave the impossible

They need not go away; you give them something to eat.

feeding the 5000

Two weeks ago I posted a short reflection on Matthew 14, where Jesus feeds the five thousand. At that time I was most struck by the huge demand Jesus placed on his disciples, rowing across lakes and ministering to the sick and giving out food. I lamented that these feats seem impossible because of my own lack of faith.

Today we continued to reflect on this passage using the Ignatian practices of meditating on the Scriptures. Again, I found myself in the story as one of the disciples. I felt sympathy and confusion to hear of John the Baptist’s death: What could he have done to deserve beheading? What about his followers? What about us, as Jesus’ followers?

Yet these thoughts are hurried away at the sight of the needy crowds. Perhaps it would have been the young men who greeted us, those who could hurry around the lake in time for us to arrive. I am awestruck as Jesus boldly preaches and heals the sick, unashamed of his mission even at this dangerous time. I love seeing Jesus work, aiding him and aiding others.

The sun begins to decline and someone mentions that the crowds ought to go from this desolate place to find food.

Again I hear him ask me to feed them. Yet this time I am not hot with anger.

No, my stomach sinks with embarrassment: I have nothing to give! I anticipate his disappointment.

Yet it is not so with Jesus.

And my heart warms. He accepts my offering.

Because my offering is not for others, it is for him. And with it, he is able to do far more.

He asked me to feed the people. Yet he provides the food.

I was struck in hearing this passage for the third time, how Jesus did not depend on my faith or my level of trust or how much I believed he could do. He asked and I obeyed to the best of my ability. This is true faith. It is not perfection, but it is enough for Jesus.

That makes all the difference for me.

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  1. I was struck in hearing this passage for the third time, how Jesus did not depend on my faith or my level of trust or how much I believed he could do. He asked and I obeyed to the best of my ability. This is true faith. It is not perfection, but it is enough for Jesus.

    Can you explain further Ian – am not sure I understand where you are coming from – what in the text are you drawing your conclusion from?

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    • In the text I see three main characters: Jesus, the Disciples and the crowds. We have there the usual characters in a miracle narrative: Jesus, the miracle performer; disciples, the ones participating in the miracle and the one being acted upon in the miracle.

      This story has Jesus tell his disciples to feed the crowds (Matt 14:16), to which they respond with disappointment, they only have a small amount of food (Matt 14:17). He tells them to bring him the fish (Matt 14:18). Jesus is clearly the active character in this miracle.

      Now, I am seeing in Matthew 14:15 the demonstration of a lack of faith, as the disciples ask Jesus to dismiss the crowd. Jesus then dominates the narrative, relegating the disciples to a supporting role at best.

      He doesn’t make a clear appeal to anyones faith. He tells the disciples to do something and they do it. The miracle might be in the fact that what the disciples had was enough. Jesus could tell stones to become bread should he have chosen to, yet the involvement of the disciples is apparently important to him.

      I draw my conclusion from the fact that the disciples here were not asked to believe, but to do. And they did their best, which was five loaves and two fish. It was THIS faith Jesus blessed and multiplied.

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      • Isn’t asking them to do something and they did it – a sign of their faith – as James says faith without works is dead faith – the way we show our faith is by acting on it. They obviously had faith in what Jesus could do because they obeyed?

        Just believing isn’t enough with God – James 2 V 19 – the passage leads me to see that Jesus not only asked them to believe he asked them to act on their belief by trusting him and distributing the food.

        I totally disagree that Jesus relegated the disciples to a supporting role at best. Have you ever worked out the legistics of distributing food to that number of people. I think the miracle happened in the hands of the disciples once Jesus handed it to them – if they had to keep going back to Jesus to get more food – it would have taken them hours – however if Jesus divided the 5 loaves and 2 fishes directly between the 12 and then the food multiplied in their hands the whole thing would have taken much less time. They played a very active and important part in this miracle – if at any time they had doubted – the food would have run out in their hands.

        Isn’t this how our God always works – in conjunction with us – without him we couldn’t – without us He wouldn’t.

        God always expects us to operate in faith
        Whatever is not of faith is sin (Romans 14 v 23)
        Without faith it is impossible to please him (Hebrews 11 v 6)
        The Victory that overcomes the world is our faith (1 John 5 v 4

        So I don’t think you can say “He doesn’t make a clear appeal to anyones faith” God (and of course Jesus) Always makes a clear appeal to faith – Faith is the only way in which God works – everything God does is through faith – God is a faith God – he operates through faith – and the ONLY way we can receive anything from or do anything for God is through Faith.

        However – as I have said before – reading Galations clearing shows us that we don’t have to rely on our faith to get the job done – the gift we were giving through the hearing of the Word (Romans 10 v 17) was The Faith of Jesus – all we have to do is use that faith.

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      • I see your point about faith being implicit in their obedience, and I agree, but as far as I can see this incidence refines what the substance of faith is.

        Before, I was frustrated that Jesus demanded the impossible. Listening again with refreshed ears, I see his expectation is obedience as far as it seems possible. There does not seems to be much of a declaration of what the disciples believed ABOUT Jesus or what he could DO here, which actually sets us up for the next story, his walking on the water and their reaction to that (disbelief/fear).

        So one might say the substance of faith is obedience. Had they not obeyed there would have been no miracle, we can infer. But was their obedience grounded in the hopeful expectation of Jesus’ miraculous provision? I don’t think so. And even still their hearts are not fundamentally changed even in witnessing the miracle.

        The setting of the walking on the water right after this miracle tells me that Matthew wants me to read them against each other, in dialogue. Peter’s fear (Matthew 14:30) causes the apparent miracle to end. In that story, Peter has a far bolder role in the miracle. He initiates it, seemingly having faith. Whereas before we see the disciples displaying a very pragmatic wisdom, here Peter shows one kind of faith. His subsequent failure shows me that his faith was imperfect also, as he had not understood that Jesus was Lord over the physical world, as demonstrated in his headings and the feeding.

        Peter was perhaps impressed that Jesus was powerful, yet didn’t understand that it wasn’t a case of Jesus vs the waves, as if they were equals. This is why the waves could ‘win’ and cause him to be afraid.

        This also goes some way to explain the rebuke of Matthew 14:31 “You of little faith”

        So then, faith in this instance is obedience to the call of Jesus. In this instance it enables the walking on water. Before it enabled the multiplication of the bread and fish. However in both instances it was Jesus who had ultimate power, and power which is enough to cover his disciples lack of faith:

        He saves Peter from the waves, and he covers his disciples’ shame in their being unable to feed the multitude.

        This is grace, which asks the impossible and also fulfils it on our behalf. Which is ultimately God’s behalf, since it is he who has asked for his own sake.

        In such a way, the Christian is caught up into God’s action in the world in as much as she or he obeys. What is that obedience founded upon? The hope for a change? I don’t see such in the passage. It is surely obedience based on the Christian’s encounter and sworn allegiance to Jesus. Peter said “If it’s you, call me” which tells me it was the person of Jesus, not Peter’s belief in the ability of the miracle to occur which was the grounding of his faith.

        Faith then is never an abstract hope for the impossible to occur. Surely we know God can do all things, but if our level of belief is what causes miracles to occur, we are setting ourselves up for failure and disappointment. One day I might feel optimistic and full of belief. Another, downtrodden and defeated. The likelihood of God joining my actions to his purposes does not change in either case, as the very act of obedience is the sign of faith and IS faith. And in BOTH instances my faith is incomplete and in need of his condescending grace to complete my imperfect action.

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      • So to summarise are you saying our faith can go up and down but God remains constant?

        With this I would totally agreed except for saying that its the practising of our faith goes up and down but God remains constant.

        We have – at all times – all the the faith we need to be in line with God – but we don’t always use it. God works through faith – so if we aren’t using the faith he’s given us he can’t work through us and finds someone else to work through. He always achieves his purpose – he wants to achieve his purpose through us – but we can block that process.

        As much as we operate in the spirit – in line with God – we will do God’s will and his work as the body of Jesus left here on this earth.

        As much as we operate in the flesh – we will fail him.

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  2. With this I would totally agreed except for saying that its the practising of our faith goes up and down but God remains constant.

    I’m unsure if there is a real difference between faith and practicing the faith.

    Firstly, one might posit that since faith without works is dead, therefore faith unpracticed is not faith whatsoever.

    Secondly, and more interestingly, if we take seriously what the New Testament seems to teach in that through Christ’s saving work he forms his life in us by his Spirit, then surely all acts are acts of practicing ‘faith’

    Paul teaches the Galatian church that Christ lives in him through faith (Galatians 2:20). I’m not sure one could experience the living and dying of Christ in proportion to their exercising of faith. I read that in light of passages like Roman 7:19 which speaks of the normative struggles of Christian living. I think it’d be unfair to suggest that Christ was any less present in those times.

    Indeed one of the scandalous things of the Cross in both Galatians and Romans is that the life of Christ is within the Church really regardless of how much or how little faith they are exercising. I would go a little further than saying that our practicing of the faith varies and God remains the same. I would posit that God’s constant work occurs really whether we want it to or not.

    That is to say, even in unbelief and sin the work of God for the believer is being carried out. I am leaning upon the notion of Christ’s spirit forming the life of Christ within the Church for this, which seems to me to be a little more nuanced than being dependant upon our being ‘in line’ with the Spirit.

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  3. In essence I think we are saying the same thing – possibly I am talking individual and you are talking corporate. Of course God’s constant work occurs because praise the Lord he can always find someone walking in faith. The fact that we as individuals aren’t causes him sadness but doesn’t stop his work.

    I disagree with the theological translation of Romans 7 – I do not believe Paul is talking about HIS normal christian walk as the last verse confirms. He is talking about the difference between walking in the law (religion – and in particular his own jewish religion) and walking by grace.

    It is worth checking the greek for Galations 2 v 20 – I believe a more accurate translation is the life I now live I live by THE FAITH Of the son of God – not by faith IN the son of God. This confirms Romans 12 telling us we all have The Measure of Faith and Galations telling us that Faith is a fruit of the spirit and Ephesians telling us that Faith is a Gift. As I explained above – we aren’t dependent on our faith IN. We are to trust in The Faith OF (Jesus) to get the job done and His faith Did indeed get the job done – He is the Author and Finisher of Faith (again the word “our” has been added). Once we realise all we have to do is look to The Faith OF jesus which is ALways on the inside of us – operating IN that faith – becomes just so much easier and we can begin to life a christian life full of power and authority – because we just become the empty vessel through which that power flowers because we have become dead to self. Christianity isn’t the struggle against sin – it’s the gaining of knowledge of what we already have which enables us to live the victorious life in which sin becomes impossible to do. Again – remember the definition of sin – Anything that is Not of faith IS SIN – so the easy way to stop sinning is to start living totally by faith 24/7

    Praise the Lord.

    By the way don’t suppose you are down in Eastbourne at the Worship Conference this weekend are you? We are down manning the Gospel for Asia stand so do pop and say hello if you are around.

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